How to Choose the Right Paralegal School Near Fultondale Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in a paralegal school near Fultondale AL and start your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the best school so that you will receive the comprehensive training that you need to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is among the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and increasingly more educational choices are becoming available, both on campus and online. However with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one start? Some potential students begin by searching for schools within driving distance of their Fultondale residences. Of those alternatives, they try to find the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are prime considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to consider. Things like accreditation and the reputation of the program must be taken into account as well. Later in this article we will review a list of questions that you must ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can assess and compare every one prior to making your decision. But first, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are available to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants basically both hold comparable job roles and functions, only with different titles. However, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and belong to a separate job category. Both legal assistants and paralegals assist Fultondale AL lawyers with a diverse array of job duties, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job duties are relevant to the type of legal firm where they work. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law practice might assist with trial logistics or transferring documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is typically billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And just like attorneys, they must carry out their duties with a high degree of professionalism and comply with a strict code of professional ethics. As mentioned, their responsibilities can be varied in support of the practices where they work, but a few of their regular activities might involve:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching relevant cases and laws
- Preparing correspondence and legal documents
- Filing legal documents with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting attorneys get ready for trial and stay organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the role of a paralegal can be complex and quite challenging. On the other hand, what they are not legally permitted to do is offer legal advice and counsel or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But they are not limited to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Legal assistants really are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And since they do so much of the legal preparation and ground work, attorneys are able to take on a much larger volume of cases or clients than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Programs and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. In any case, for either position the educational prerequisites and job prospects will be the same. The quickest way to begin your career as a paralegal in Fultondale AL is by earning a certificate, which may require as little as six months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do call for an Associate's Degree, which provide a more extensive education and can be acquired at many community colleges in two years. And if you are interested in an even more extensive education, 4 year Bachelor's Degrees are offered also. When you have acquired either a certificate or degree, you may choose to proceed and obtain a certification. Even though it is not a legal requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification can not only help boost your job opportunities, but help substantiate you as a professional as well. A few of the highly respected certifying agencies in the field are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a paralegal degree or certificate from an accredited school (we will discuss the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two crucial first steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Legal Assistant and Paralegal Online Classes
Online legal assistant or paralegal schools have become more popular and may be an excellent option for those looking for convenient access to classes and accommodating scheduling. Online programs can be particularly attractive to Fultondale AL students who continue to work while earning a degree. As an additional advantage, online classes can often be less expensive than more traditional options. Even supplementary expenses for such items as study materials or commuting may be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet programs are accredited, which we will address in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps ensure that the training you obtain is of the highest caliber. So check to make certain that the program and school you are thinking about are accredited by a highly regarded agency, such as the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to attend classes in a less structured and formal setting, then obtaining your certificate or degree online may be the right choice for you.
What to Ask Paralegal Degree or Certificate Programs
Once you have a better idea regarding what paralegals do and what academic choices are available, you can begin the process of evaluating schools. But considering that there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Fultondale AL area, in addition to trade and vocational schools, you must learn what questions to ask so that you can evaluate each one. This is especially true if you include all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs as well. If you are like many potential students, you will begin by searching for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other critical aspects to consider as well, for instance the reputation and accreditation of the schools. So let's go over several of the questions you should be asking the schools you are researching so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate choice.
Is the Paralegal Program and School Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you pick should be accredited by a reputable accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online program, it can also get accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which focuses on online or distance training. Accreditation will not only help guarantee that the training you will get will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. Numerous Fultondale AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that are graduates of an accredited program. Finally, financial assistance and student loans are often offered only for accredited schools.
What's the Reputation of the Program? Investigate what the rankings and reputations are for the legal assistant schools you are looking at. This is of specific importance if you are entering the field with no prior work history, since employers will need to rely on the caliber of your education exclusively. Checking that the program you choose is accredited is a good first step. Checking school rating services, such as those provided by U.S. News and World Report, can help verify school quality of education and rankings as well. You can also contact a few Fultondale AL law offices that you may have an interest in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even though a school is not the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an outstanding reputation.
Does the Program Sponsor Internships? Internship programs provide students a chance to experience working in a law office or other legal enterprise while remaining in school. They can also provide a means for students to begin developing contacts within the Fultondale AL legal community. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing provide internship programs, especially in areas of the law that you have the most interest in entering upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Help available? You will most likely wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but finding that first job in a new field can be difficult without help. Ask if the paralegal programs you are assessing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are a good sign that the schools have sizable networks and good relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also substantiates that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Since laws vary from one state to another, it may be beneficial to select a legal assistant school located in Alabama or the state where you wish to practice after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to create relationships in the neighboring legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is even more justification to obtain your education in the community where you want to practice. Also, if you attend classes at a community college, many charge a higher tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Fultondale AL region.
How Much is the Complete Cost? Paralegal programs can differ in cost depending on the credential obtained and the length of training provided. Having said that, tuition will not be the only cost for your training. Don't forget to add the cost of supplies, books and commuting to classes to your budget as well. Financial assistance may be accessible to help offset part of the cost, so don't forget to check with the school's financial aid office to find out what is available in Fultondale AL. Needless to say that if you decide to attend an online school, some of these added costs, such as for commuting, may be reduced or eliminated.
Do the Classes Fit your Schedule? Many paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can only attend night or weekend classes near Fultondale AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part-time basis, make sure that the school you enroll in offers that option. Finally, find out what the protocol is for making up missed classes as a result of work, illness or family emergencies.
Enroll in the Best Fultondale Paralegal Certificate or Degree Program
Choosing the ideal paralegal studies certificate school is a vital first step toward your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have discussed in this post, you have the option of attending classes at school or you can attend them online in the comfort and privacy of your Fultondale home. Paralegal education programs are made available in numerous lengths and formats. Several types of private and public institutions make available paralegal training, including junior and community colleges, four year colleges and universities, in addition to vocational and trade schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a pronounced impact on your opportunities for success in your new career. Considering that there is a broad range in the quality of schools, pick carefully. Give yourself the greatest possible chance to be successful in this fascinating profession. But regardless of how you choose to acquire your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to assess each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate education you can accomplish your career goal to become a practicing paralegal in Fultondale Alabama.